Regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol in a single session is the likely cause of an expanding waistline, particularly for women, rather than more steady drinking over time, according to Martin Bobak, professor of epidemiology at University College London.
A study of almost 30,000 people in the former Soviet Union found that binge-drinkers who drank the equivalent of four to five pints of beer or a bottle of wine in one day were more likely to have a “beer belly” than those who drank the same amount, spread over the week. Consuming up to 12 units of alcohol in one sitting at least once a month was associated with a 10 cm (3.9 ins) increase in women’s waist size and up to a 6 cm (2.4 ins) increase for men.
Professor Bobak and his team questioned a sample of middle-aged men and women (45 to 69 years old) in Russia, the Czech Republic and Poland, on their drinking habits and also noted their height, weight and waist size. He noted that, in contrast to studies of the Mediterranean diet which suggest that moderate consumption of red wine is good for the heart, “alcohol seems to be killing people in Russia with cardiovascular problems”.
Overall, 18% of men and 1.5% of women in the study were binge-drinkers, as defined as consuming 80- 100g of alcohol (up to 12 units) on one occasion, at least once a month.
Professor Bobak added that further studies were needed to find out why heavy drinking caused people to gain fat around their midriffs, as “it could be related to other factors such as diet or lack of exercise.” But his ongoing research suggested the pattern of drinking was important. Some people who reported being binge-drinkers actually drank less overall than others people did over time, he said. “It’s not necessarily the volume or type, but the pattern.”
Although the proportion of women binge-drinkers in the study was small, they may have been more likely to put on weight because they had a smaller body mass to cope with the effects of excess alcohol. The research also found only a slight increase in waist size associated with drinking beer or spirits instead of wine.
“Abdominal obesity is an important risk factor for diabetes and for cardiovascular disease,” Bobak noted. “The finding that binge drinking is related to abdominal obesity is therefore important for our understanding of the link between heavy drinking and these diseases.”
The findings were reported at the recent annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in September.